A groundbreaking law adopted in Los Angeles almost one year ago that allows bicycle riders to take civil action against drivers who harass them continues to generate local and national interest, with Sunnyvale becoming the latest city to consider enacting protections.
“So many (drivers) seem to think it’s like basketball rules: no hit, no foul. If they don’t hit you, they don’t think they’re doing anything wrong,” said Kevin Jackson, a longtime member of the Sunnyvale Bicycle and Pedestrian Advisory Commission (BPAC). “In their minds, it’s not something they feel they have to ever explain to a cop or anything.”
But under a proposed ordinance expected to be adopted by the Sunnyvale City Council on July 17, drivers who threaten or distract bike riders could be taken to court and would have to explain themselves to a judge. Fashioned after the Los Angeles law, it would make drivers liable for damages starting at $1,000.
“Sunnyvale wants to encourage people to ride bicycles rather than drive motor vehicles in order to lessen traffic congestion and improve air quality,” the ordinance states. “Riding a bicycle on City streets poses hazards to bicyclists, and these hazards are amplified by the actions of persons who deliberately harass and endanger bicyclists because of their status as bicyclists.”
Jackson said city staffers, including the police department, were initially opposed to studying the idea based on some misunderstandings. But they eventually agreed to look into it, produced a report that won praise from advocates, and recommended that an anti-harassment law be adopted. The ordinance’s initial reading passed the Sunnyvale City Council June 19 by a vote of 6-1, with Councilmember Jim Davis, an ex-police officer, opposed.